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RACINE — Jody Wagner knows about the toll cancer can take on a person.

The Racine resident and her husband have lost several friends and family members to the disease, and currently have family members in treatment.

“Cancer does not care what sex, race or religion you are — it just comes,” the Racine resident said.

An avid loom knitter, Wagner was browsing pages for knitting groups on Facebook when she stumbled on a post about a charity that would let her combine her passion for knitting with her compassion for cancer sufferers.

Called Operation Chemo Comfort, the charity works with knitters and sewers across the state to produce and collect homemade hats and head scarves for patients going through chemotherapy, an intense treatment where patients receive high doses of anti-cancer drugs that often results in hair loss.

The Milwaukee-area charity is currently in the middle of its spring drive and is looking to collect about 2,000 hats, turbans and headscarves between now and June 3 and it’s putting out the call to area knitters and sewers.

Since the head coverings will be used by chemo patients during the warmer months crafters are encouraged to use lighter, more breathable fabrics and yarns.

Once the hats have been collected, they will be delivered to cancer treatment facilities within the Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Network.

The charity collected nearly 1,900 during its Fall 2016 drive and those caps and head scarves were almost gone by March. That’s because Froedtert is eastern Wisconsin’s only academic medical center, said charity cofounder Carrie O’Connor, a scientific writer at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

To date, the charity has received mailed hats and head scarves from crafters in 25 states and Puerto Rico.

Patient inspired

Although Operation Chemo Comfort has grown rapidly since it held its first charity drive in April of last year, it was actually inspired by one cancer patient’s simple act of charity, explains Kelsey Lexow, the charity’s other founder, and a clinical research assistant at the medical college.

The woman, who was fighting pancreatic cancer, would make up care packages for her fellow sufferers and Lexow found inspiration in her work. She had been looking for a way to help patients, and the avid knitter realized that making hats for the chemo patients — and enlisting coworkers to do the same — could help the patients feel cared for while also boosting morale.

Lexow remembers seeing a 19-year-old woman devastated by her recent cancer diagnosis and giving her a hat she had just finished.

“This is all I can give you right now,” Lexow remembers saying to the woman.

Making the hats — many of which she designs with specific patients in mind — gives Lexow a way to feel like she is helping in some way, she said.

As for the hats, “they mean something to” the patients, too, she said.

“We never thought it could be this big. We were like, OK, this is going to be a thing now,” she added.

For Wagner, volunteering for Operation Chemo Comfort gives her a chance to feel like she is giving back, she said.

“It is a way to let (chemo) patients know that they are not walking the most difficult road in their life alone,” Wagner said. “It is a way to let them know someone is thinking about them; that someone cares and is praying for them.”

For information how to donate to Operation Chemo Comfort visit their Facebook page

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